Research on Human Pheromones


Some research has shown that women prefer the sense of men who are more genetically dissimilar to them despite these studies, uh, the role of pheromones and human behavior has remained controversial and not just because it’s mostly about sex.

Here, I’ll detail out some of the theoretical, methodological and physical complications surrounding pheromone research and its findings.

Pheromones in Animals

One of the main concerns about extending the concept of pheromones to mammals and humans is insect behavior. While being complex in its own right, is generally thought to be quite simple and reflexive.

In mammalian behavior, especially human behavior, this is not so much. The neurobiology of humans is far more complex with the introduction of the cortex and human behavior. Social behavior is dependent on things like content development, internal states, and the immensely complicated molecular cascades, and past learning.

What this means is that describing human behaviors either switched on or switched off by some single chemical factor is inaccurate and misleading. To give an example, you might hear testosterone makes you more aggressive, but the more nuanced and complicated truth is that testosterone can lead to increased aggression given a number of other factors that are also present.

Some chemical like low cortisol and low serotonin, some environmental like frustrating circumstances, some social like the presence of a threatening person.

Some are based on learning and past experiences somewhat internal states like motivation and emotion. In chemical signaling between two individuals, whether a chemical causes a behavioral change relies just as much on the receiver as it does on the center. Learn more at

Pheromone Research in Humans

pheromones in humansUnfortunately, one thing that plagues pheromone research is a terrible, terrible study design and methodology. Many studies lack control substances or control subjects to compare their effects to, some have low sample sizes, and most don’t control for environmental confounding factors or variables.

For example, in many studies where you give pheromones to couples to examine changes in arousal or menstrual timing, they fail to control for attractiveness levels of intimacy, social cues, and some don’t even have objective measurements. They just rely on self-report. Even worse, oftentimes there’s no identifiable chemical involved.

It’s just getting people to smell each other’s sweaty clothes. On top of this, most studies have never successfully been replicated and that’s a big problem. What about all the work I just described a few minutes ago? Well, the work on menstrual synchrony has been extensively criticized for poor methodology and an inability to control for potentially confounding variables as well as the fact that there’s probably more studies that exist showing that it doesn’t work than studies there are showing that it does work. Learn more at

Because of all these issues, even if human pheromones were real and unconsciously influencing our social and sexual lives the past 40 years of research has done very little in the way of proving it. However, recommendations to fix this problem can be found here.


There are several studies that indicate that large chunks of the human population either have a vestigial VNO, meaning it’s present, but not functioning or don’t even have a VNO at all. Above this, there’s little evidence indicating that the receptors of the human VNO are active and above that whether the human VNO is even functionally connected to anything else in the brain.

The VNO was thought to be the main pheromone receptor organ of the body and while you can surgically remove it in animals, you can’t do that in people and so proving that it does, in fact, respond to pheromones and people is difficult if not ethically impossible. This has led many to speculate that if pheromones do work in humans, that the other work through the neuroepithelium also located in the nose or through some other yet to be defined pathway.


So in conclusion, if pheromones do work in humans, there used to be limited and variable in effect given the large list of other factors that influence behavior. At the current moment, there’s a huge lack of consistent evidence on their effects and there’s no distinct neurobiology and humans that have been outlined. So the role of pheromones and human behavior is speculative at best and controversial at worst.

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